The Prince, the Ghost, and the Cook
The Bardi castle stands tall and proud on a ridge of the Apennines, to the south of Parma. It’s a paradise for view-seeking motorcyclists, those who actually take a good long look at their surroundings rather than just putting the pedal to the metal. You round the last bend, and the Castello dei Landi stands before you in such a way that you cannot help but stop and look at it. It’s almost mocking you.
The castle remains in extraordinary condition, much like a second home. Beneath, the town hunkers up to it in romantic little pieces, as neat as if they were houses of Lego. Then there’s the new part, but that’s small. Over the decades, so many local families have packed their bags and set off on their adventures: across the English Channel, across the oceans. Today, they are coming back: the Apennines are being rediscovered, like the austere mountain life, like the local produce.
That local produce includes three or four cheesemakers, who make the few, precious wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano – the mountain variety that never seems to age. Pigs are reared, and the charcuterie they yield has achieved mythic status. Then the mushrooms and truffles, white and black…
Of course, it’s not a real castle if it doesn’t have a ghost, with stories of love and tragedy, obviously. The soldier Moroello, a hard-nosed man with a soft heart, fell in love – requited love – with the daughter of the lord who, equally predictably, had promised her hand to the usual fat old man, for the usual political-diplomatic reasons. The young woman in question – Soleste – had secret trysts with the handsome, ardent Moroello, and would climb the keep to await his return from military expeditions, which were par for the course in those Dark Ages.
One day, Soleste saw from afar a clash of men-at-arms. What was that? – the enemy banners were moving towards the castle! Thinking that her lover had fallen in battle, she felt her heart lurch, and she threw herself headlong off the tower, without a second thought. How wrong she was: it was the victorious Moroello who was hefting the enemy standard back to the keep, bearing it in triumph. Once he got there, he learned the awful truth; he took his own life, and was condemned to wander the castle for eternity, robbed of peace and love.
What is less disputable, though, is the castle’s link, through various heraldic complications, to the Grimaldi family of Monaco. Bardi and Compiano, with their respective fortresses, formed part of the Landi State, which produced Maria Landi, who married Hercule Grimaldi. Their son, Honoré II, was the first Prince of Monaco (reigned 1604-62).
In 2018, Albert II, Prince of Monaco came to Bardi for the presentation of a book dedicated to Honoré II: edited by Riccardo De Rosa, it celebrates the ancient tie between the two families. The town was at fever-pitch when it learned that it would be laying on the lunch, which was entrusted to Massimo Berzolla of the Ristorante Due Spade, who unfurled a menu centred on the local delicacies.
It is said that at a shiver of embarrassment passed down the spine of the Chamberlain of the Court, when he realised that there wasn’t really any cutlery designed for the famous Bardi Panetti. The cook boldly suggested that the prince eat them with his fingers, dipping them in custard. This episode has already passed into legend, much like the apparition of the Virgin Mary, who is credited with having inspired the invention of those Panetti.
The Due Spade is an old, old institution in Bardi, and Massimo marks the generation that has returned, after decades spent by his family in America.
After much wandering through the world of cooks and cooking, he returned to first Parma and then to Bardi to make his food. This includes the formidable Parmigiano Reggiano, aged for 60 months, or the rustic, delicious Torta d’erba; the Crocetti di Bardi, not dissimilar in form and content to the Ligurian “corzetti”; fried mushrooms, the indispensable tortelli; snails, ducks...
It gets curiouser and curiouser with Daniela Fulgoni, Massimo’s partner and front-of-house manager, who is also a returnee from a family of Bardian emigrées. Like Moroello and Soleste, she was struck by Cupid’s arrow here, but thankfully fate has been rather kinder.
Yet miracles do happen. It is said that Albert liked the Panetti and the ambience of Bardi, and the town still talks about its famous trio: the Prince, the Ghost and the Cook.
[in photos: the Bardi castle, dishes at Le Due Spade. Images by the author]